Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble are some of today’s most popular dating apps among young adults, particularly college students. With a simple swipe to the right, users have a massive pool of bachelors and bachelorettes available at their fingertips. This system feeds a primitive desire for instant gratification. It satisfies a need for companionship, with minimal effort and low investment. Our technologically advanced society has given rise to this new culture – a culture where it is common to have casual, sexual flings. This phenomenon is known as the “hook-up” culture. Traditional courting, which typically involves a series of dates over a longer period of time, is often overshadowed by the prevalence of the hook-up culture. “Hook ups” usually focus on the physical aspects and may lack emotional connection. This is often seen by the traditional dating community as an extremely sped up and less meaningful version of the older styles of dating. Another term used in pop culture for hooking up is “booty call.” A booty call usually entails contacting another person with the intent of having casual sex. Although some long-term relationships may blossom from a one-night stand, more often than not, both parties move on to a different partner. It is important to note that there are still many others that are seeking or are in monogamous, long-term relationships. It is up to the individual to decide which type of relationship that they want to participate in.
What Is Hooking Up?
Hooking up is a broad term used for casual sex that can include oral sex, anal sex, and any other type of penetrative sex. Some may consider kissing or cuddling as hooking up. The ambiguity of the term “hooking up” may cause problems due to varying expectations between individuals. The defining feature of hooking up is the unspoken agreement that the couple separate at the end of the encounter, with no strings attached. This appeals to many young adults who are simply looking for a good time with no long-term commitments. College serves as a catalyst for this culture because it provides the perfect environment; it is filled with people of the same age group who live in close proximity with one another. Parties held by fraternities and sororities amplify this culture. The influence of alcohol, the vibrant atmosphere, and the endless sea of new, single people make hooking up a tempting decision. Hooking up arrangements can be made practically anywhere, and are not limited to the phone app sphere or the party scene. Some people hook up with their college floor mates or housemates. In a hormone driven college environment, students can successfully fulfill their sexual desires without the added time commitment that they often are too busy for.
Kathleen A. Bogle, assistant professor of Sociology at LaSalle University, recently conducted a study with college students on two different campuses to assess and categorize the current sexual relationships of young adults. Bogle combined in-depth interviews with previous research on the subject to write the book Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus. She argues that dating is virtually nonexistent in college today, and that the majority of sexually active students engage in “hooking up” instead.4 The general lack of serious dating implies that many young adults do not fully understand how to initiate a monogamous relationship without having hooked up beforehand. “For the majority of students, they’re not going to dinner and a movie unless they have hooked up with someone. Some physical interaction comes before the dating,” says Justin Garcia, a State University of New York doctoral fellow at Binghamton University, who conducts research on the hook-up culture. He claimed that, “Often, dates happen after a relationship, rather than before.”1
One theory for the increasing popularity of the hook-up culture is the increased number of women attending college. Nowadays, women often outnumber men in college demographics. These women have a new mindset, one that is in eager pursuit of a degree. This means they have less hours to dedicate to a time-consuming relationship and this opt to participate in the hook-up culture. In her recent book, “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin argues that hooking up is a “strategy for today’s empowered and ambitious young women, allowing them to have enjoyable sex lives while still focusing most of their energy on academic and professional goals.” Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who studies young women’s sexuality, said that women at elite universities were “choosing hook-ups because they saw relationships as too demanding and potentially too distracting” from their future goals.2
These statements tie into another reason as to why hooking up is so popular among young people. According to experts, the age at which people in Western countries marry for the first time has been steadily climbing. This increase in age could potentially be from the higher percentage of women and men pursuing a higher education. Women surveyed on college campuses said that they do not plan on marrying until their late twenties or early thirties.2 The demand for higher education changes people’s sexual and marital choices in a way that prioritizes academics first.
Scripts for Hooking Up
When hooking up in college, there is usually an unspoken script. Two people attracted to one another make eye contact and start dancing together. Things get heated and the couple starts kissing. One person eventually leads the other to a more secluded place, usually their home, and the hook up begins. Both men and women list physical attraction as the main criteria when considering a possible partner, although women will, more often than men, give some consideration to secondary characteristics like intelligence, involvement with Greek life, social status, etc. Huge discrepancies exist in how people define hooking up. How far the pair wants to take their encounter depends on personal beliefs, peer influences, and societal standards. Psychological researcher Karl Jonason found that one-night stand hook-ups contain a relatively high amount of emotional tension compared to recurrent hook-ups or “booty call” relationships.5 This is somewhat surprising considering most students view one-night stands as simple sexual encounters motivated by alcohol and devoid of emotion. The “talking” phase is a state of limbo between a hook-up and a committed monogamous relationship, where the individuals consider their options and decide whether or not they would like to be in a long-term relationship with the other person.
When the hook-up is recurrent, the parties may refer to each physical event as a booty call. These meetings are typically organized by call, text, or the internet. Booty calls are usually defined as unplanned and spontaneous get-togethers that occur late at night. Booty calls are a specific type of hooking up; they usually entail multiple sexual encounters with the same partner. During the booty call, one individual typically contacts the other to arrange a meeting and engage in the hook-up. Psychologist Karl Jonason has called the booty call “a compromise between men’s relatively short-term and women’s comparatively long-term ideals.”6 He believes that men are attracted to booty calls because they allow access to sexual activity without the added pressure of a relationship, while women often engage in these short-term relationships as a way to evaluate potential long-term partners. By Jonason’s standard, booty call relationships attract women because they involve multiple encounters. Hook-up buddies give women the chance to evaluate potential partners in a short-term context with a possibility of securing a long-term relationship.6
Although some situations may follow this script, there are still many situations where the woman desires a short-term relationship and the man hopes for a long-term one. However, this dynamic may occur no matter what gender each person is in the relationship. A common problem in hook-up relationships is an imbalance in attachment. One partner may become more attached to the other, and wish for the relationship to become more serious than just a casual fling. This causes emotional distress and conflict of interests; Because hook-up relationships can often be short-term with little commitment, one partner may be engaged in several casual hook-up relationships at once, or have multiple one-night stands with different people. The most important thing with any sort of sexual relationship is to establish clear boundaries early on to avoid leading your partner on, hurting their feelings, or having your own feelings hurt as well. Many people are often blinded by the hooking up world and forget to maintain their sexual health. Any sexually active individual should be regularly tested for STIs and should use a contraception method, such as a condom to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs.
Popular Hooking Up Apps
As previously mentioned before, Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble are some of today’s most popular apps for young adults participating in the hook-up culture. These free services contribute to the culture through providing an easy and accessible way for people to quickly meet one another. These apps utilize the user’s location to match them up with other bachelors and bachelorettes in their area. Traditional hook-ups were often initiated at meetings, parties, or bars, but now the same thing can be accomplished with little effort through a simple swipe on a phone app. A typed out confirmation can feel far more straightforward then flirting with someone at a bar with the possibility of rejection. The anonymity of the online world can also help mitigate this fear of rejection. If a person does not respond, people can easily save face and just move on to the next profile. These new applications help minimize effort while maximizing efficiency.
The Double Standard
Although both sexes actively participate in the hook-up culture, an enormous double standard still exists for men and women when it comes to sexual promiscuity. College men who have many sexual partners are often revered with titles like “pimp” or “player.” Although these words technically have negative definitions, they are oftentimes used in a joking manner and maintain an overall positive connotation. A “player” is seen as a bachelor who is attractive and experienced, while a “hoe” is seen as a dirty and impure woman who gets around. The idealization of a polygamous male in U.S. society has led many men to take pride in, and strive for, these labels. A significant number of men claim that they enjoy being with various women because college is a time for having fun and “playing the field,” and not for settling down.
A woman, however, can shame her “reputation” if she has a high number of sexual partners. If a woman were to hook up with several men who happened to be fraternity brothers or good friends, she might be viewed by her peers as a “slut” or a “homie hopper.” If a woman were to say that she has a high body count, she may turn away a potential partner even though they may have the same amount of past sexual partners. This puts women in a double-binding situation. Women are pressured to have sexual relations to avoid being “prudish” or “uptight,” while at the same time they attempt to stay sexually “pure” to avoid being labeled as “loose.” In other words, women are caught in between impossible sexual standards based on judgment and stigmatism. Women—like men—should be evaluated on their intelligence and achievements, not judged by centuries-old ideals of oppressive morality. Many women feel pressured to hook up with men that they are romantically interested in because they believe that this will help develop and eventually secure a monogamous relationship with him. They think that by giving him what he wants, he will return the favor and give her what she wants. The same can be said for men who hook-up under pressure, when in reality they just want a monogamous long-term relationship. The pressure that both men and women feel can affect the way they approach relationships with others, which may force them into uncomfortable or undesirable situations. “Guys don’t seem to care as much about women’s pleasure in the hook-up, whereas they do seem to care quite a bit in the relationships,” Dr. England, a sociologist at New York University who led an online survey of 24,000 students at 21 universities called the Online College Social Life Survey, said regarding of gender differences in hook-up sexual relationships.
In contrast, women “seem to have this idea they’re supposed to be pleasing in both contexts.” In hook-ups, women were much more likely to give men oral sex than to receive it.3 Jonason has substantiated this claim from an evolutionary perspective, finding that hook-ups and one-night stands represent an ideal male mating strategy and allows them to “mate” with multiple females at low cost (with little to no investment in the woman’s welfare or that of her potential offspring).5 However, he also found that females have adapted to this situation, using hook-up relationships as an opportunity to evaluate a variety of potential partners before attempting to forge a long-term relationship.5 Of course, within modern society these roles can be reversed; women might want to mate with multiple partners solely for sexual gratification, while men might be searching for steady relationships. It is important to know that a person’s sexuality is not solely governed by evolutionary “instincts.”
Pros of Hooking Up
Hooking up lets individuals thoroughly explore their sexuality. It is a great way for an individual to truly understand themselves and their desires. A person can figure out, both, what they want and what they don’t want when it comes to a partner. College can be the perfect time for people to explore. They may come to realize that they are attracted to the same sex or may be attracted to multiples sexes because of curiosity that led to exploration. Hooking up may also be empowering because it gives a person a sense of control in their life. Some feminists have embraced the hook up culture and claim that, “It is my body and I can do what I want with it”. Some people may be too busy for a serious and committed relationship so they hook up to save them the effort and time. They can potentially prevent hurting someone’s feelings because the general expectations for hooking up is that there are no strings attached. When you hook up with people, there is an unspoken rule that it will not be a long-term thing and that it was a temporary thing. The other person won’t be expecting a call or text back. This can save feelings of disappoint. Other people simply hook up for the fun of it! Sex is an enjoyable act when partner is both consenting adults who both agree to the arrangements and have similar expectations.
Cons of Hooking Up
More often than not, the purpose of the majority of hooking up partnerships is to have a temporary fling that satisfies one’s physical desire. Traditional relationships typically include both the physical and the emotional aspect. Partners seek to get to know one another more and plan on having a longer term relationship. It is critical to know the expectations that come with participating in this type of hookup community in order to minimize misunderstandings that could lead to hurt feelings. This is not to say that genuine feelings of love cannot come out of a hookup, but such cases are not as common. A person may also experience an internal, moral or religious conflict within themselves that can cause feelings of guilt and confusion. Hook-ups may cause one to question their self-worth and experience a feeling of emptiness. There may be social repercussions of having casual sex such as being judged and called a “hoe” or “slut”, especially for females. Hooking up with strangers also leaves a person more vulnerable to contracting an STI because they don’t know their partner’s sexual history.
Hooking Up and Health
When having casual sex, it is critical to always use protection in the form of condoms, dental dams for protection from STIs and in the form of birth control medication for prevention from unwanted pregnancies. One typically hooks up with a person whose level of sexual health and potential infections that they possess is unknown to them. For a person who has multiple partners, it is increasingly important to also get tested regularly.
According to Bogle’s interviews and other research, life after college reverts back to traditional dating styles.4 With their environment changing from a college campus to the “real world”, these young adults are maturing and beginning to want more serious relationships that could potentially lead to marriages and long-time partnerships. The process of going on a first date and going on many more after that before having sex becomes popular once more. The establishment of boyfriend and girlfriend titles to signify commitment naturally occurs. Getting into a serious relationship doesn’t need to start at graduation. There are currently many happy couples in college. Sometimes these relationships even lead to marriage afterwards. It is up to the individual to decide if they want to join the hook up culture. It is also up to the individual to decide when they want to get into a more serious relationship. Everyone has their own preferences and that is okay. An individual should do what they are comfortable with and what makes them happy.
Hooking up might not be for everyone, but for those who do participate in the culture may become more confident with themselves and enjoy themselves. While engaging in the hook-up, it is of utmost importance to maintain sexual health through using protection and having routine check-ups.
- Jayson, Sharon. “More College ‘hookups,’ but More Virgins, Too.” USA Today. USA Today, 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 29 Jan. 2014
- Taylor, Kate. “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too.” New York Times. New York Times, 12 July 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2014
- Wilson, Brenda. “Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships.” NPR. NPR, 8 June 2009. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
- Bogle, Kathleen. Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on College Campuses. New York: New York University Press, 2008.
- Jonason, P. K., Li, N. P., & Cason, M. J. (2009). The “booty call”: A compromise between men’s and women’s ideal mating strategies. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 1-11
- Jonason, P. K., Li, N. P., & Richardson, J. (2010). Positioning the booty-call relationship on the spectrum of relationships: sexual but more emotional that one-night stands. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 1-10.
Last Updated: 7 December 2017.